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230                                                                                                            B. POLEVOI
He would walk out of the house with a smile on his
flushed face, carelessly fanning himself with his hand-
kerchief; but no sooner did he pass through the door than
the smile gave way to a wince of pain. Clinging to the
handrail, he staggered, groaning, down the steps of the
porch, dropped on to the dewy grass and, pressing his
whole body to the moist and still warm ground, wept
with the pain caused by the tight straps of his artificial feet.
He unfastened the straps to relieve his legs. When
he felt rested, he fastened them again, jumped up and
strode back to the house. He reappeared unnoticed in the
hall where the sweating accordion-player was tirelessly
pumping out the music, approached red-haired Zinochka
who was already searching for him in the crowd with her
eyes, smiled a broad smile, exposing his white, regular,
porcelainlike teeth, and the agile, graceful couple would
again glide into the circle. Zinochka would chide him
for leaving her, he would retort with a jest, and they
would whirl round in no way different from the rest of
the dancers.
These hard dancing exercises soon produced results.
Alexei felt less and less fettered by the artificial feet; they
seemed to become grafted to his legs.
Alexei was pleased. Only one thing caused him
anxiety now—the absence of letters from Olya. More than
a month had passed since—after Gvozdev's unfortunate
experience with his girl—he had sent her that fatal, as
he now regarded it, and at all events absolutely absurd
letter, but no reply came. Every morning, after his gym-
nastics and running exercises, which he daily increased
by a hundred paces, he would go to the letter-rack in
the reception-room to see whether there were any letters
for him. There were always more letters in the pigeon-
hole "M" than in any of the others, but he sorted the
batch in vain.
One day, during a dancing lesson, Burnazyan's dark
head appeared at the recreation hall window. In his
hand he held his walking-stick and a letter. Before he
could utter a word Alexei snatched the envelope, which
was addressed in a large, round, schoolgirl's hand, and
ran off, leaving astonished Burnazyan at the window and
his angry teacher in the middle of the room.